September 3, 2015 Under The Sun Tour Returns to The Paramount Huntington, NY 8-24-15 w/ Sugar Ray, Better Than Ezra, Uncle Cracker, & Eve 6
Under The Sun Tour is back for its third consecutive year. With the music of ’90s having been a type of “soundtrack to people’s lives,” having songs appear in movies, perfectly showcasing all emotions we face in life, and giving all a vacation from the days we face, the tour has proved its success as fans come out to take part in it each time it comes around. Beginning Friday, July 17th, co-founder Mark McGrath once again brought his band Sugar Ray on tour with Better Than Ezra, Uncle Kracker, and Eve 6 to indulge fans with the affection for the ’90s Summer fun. Continuing through late August, fans grabbed a friend or two ,and a cold beverage of choice, to kick back during one of this last shows of the tour at The Paramount in Huntington, NY on Monday August 24th. Delivering a night of unadulterated fun, these top acts of the Post-Grunge hit the stage for an evening of upbeat, danceable, sing-along shenanigans, with plenty of covers thrown in, creating a party-like atmosphere.
Eve 6 began the proceedings with their brand of expert Pop-Rock. Formed in Southern California in the late ’90s, Eve 6 burst onto the scene in 1998 with their self-titled debut. Riding on the heels of the end of golden-era Hip Hop and Grunge’s death knell, the band’s brand of infectious, Pop-oriented Rock -n-Roll was a welcome respite from the angst and anger that originated in Seattle and fell victim to poorly executed attempts at capturing the sound and feel by bands like Creed, Fuel, and Bush. While these bands were clearly emulating the sound of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Nirvana, the message was hollow. Eve 6, and other acts that found success from that time ditched the pretense for good old fashioned Rock-n-Roll. Currently featuring the original lineup of Max Collins (bass/vocals), Jon Siebels (guitar), and Tony Fagenson (drums), the trio took the stage at The Paramount for a set of well thought out Pop/Punk Rock.
“Promise” started Eve 6’s set with a straight-ahead lead on guitar, which quickly gave way to a danceable rave-up. “Open Road Song” kept the pace brisk with chugging guitars from Siebels, and Fagenson blasting the toms throughout the melody. “Think Twice,” with its brooding intro, showed the band’s versatility. The song would eventually circle back to what Eve 6 does best and take off into a hearty Rock ‘n’ Roll track. Nineteen-ninety-nine’s “Here’s to the Night” embodied all that made that era an interesting departure from the doom and gloom of Grunge. A pleading tune with a weaving melody, heartfelt lyrics, and just enough speed and guitars to invoke a gentle head nod, but no desire to destroy one’s surroundings. Set closer “Inside Out” was the song that put Eve 6 on the map. Gently strummed chords on electric guitar opened the track with Collins singing equally gentle. The nice would be short-lived as Siebels veered off into a fuzzy, choppy riff for the remainder of the song, and Fagenson pounded the drums ferociously as Collins delivered a venomous vocal. Eve 6 have a few more shows left in September, so check them out.
Uncle Kracker was next to grace the stage, bringing his unique blend of Rap, Pop, Rock, and Soul to the stage. Breaking into the business as Kid Rock’s DJ, after Kid Rock released The History of Rock in 2000 to great success, Uncle Kracker went solo with his debut album, 2000’s Double Wide. Double Wide would go on to sell over two million copies, putting Uncle Kracker in the national spotlight.
“When the Sun Goes Down,” a song from Kenny Chesney’s album of the same name, on which Uncle Kracker performed, started the set. A perfectly-crafted modern Country number with Honky-Tonk pianos, simple guitars, and a great sing-along chorus got the crowd swaying immediately. Probably Uncle Kracker’s biggest hit, a cover of Dobie Gray’s 1973 hit, “Drift Away” was next. The classic Soul groove got the crowd singing along to every word, and swaying in time to the music. “Follow Me,” another smash hit for Uncle Kracker, found the crowd drowning him out for the first verse and chorus. In a fun twist, the band kept the music the same, but incorporated the lyrics to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” for the second half. “No Stranger to Shame” was the crowd’s first taste of Uncle Kracker’s Rap skills as he laid down a brazen Rap over some Rock-n-Roll. Again, leaning on Classic Rock, the song would eventually fall into The Steve Miller Band’s classic “The Joker,” delighting the crowd and inspiring a sing-along. Sublime’s smash single “What I Got” was next as the theme of laid-back fun rolled on in earnest. Pop-Country masterpiece “Smile” and a cover of mentor Kid Rock’s huge hit, “All Summer Long” closed out the set. Uncle Kracker also has a few more dates lined up for September for fans anxious to see him live.
Better Than Ezra’s tight playing and smart musicianship followed Uncle Kracker’s gleeful set of good time music. Featuring original members Kevin Griffin (lead vocals/guitar) and Tom Drummond (bass), the band was rounded out with Michael Jerome (drums since 2009), and touring member James Arthur Payne (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals). The single “Good” from the band’s major-label debut, 1993’s Deluxe was a huge hit and put Better Than Ezra on the map. This would be the opener for the bands up-tempo set. A feedback-laced guitar intro gave way to a pulsating lead on bass as Griffin delivered a crisp vocal. The song’s numerous refrains of “Ah-ha!” got the crowd buzzing and jamming along. The funky “Extra Ordinary” with its Rap-like verses, Soul-drenched backing vocals, and tripped out instrumentals made for a groovy number. Keeping with that same theme, the band laid down a medley featuring their own tune “Juicy” mixed with The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” The Sugar Hill Gang’s classic “Rapper’s Delight,” and Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.” This all made sense as the groove of “Juicy” and the falsetto vocals are very similar to The Stones’ classic, late ’70s tune. With its rapped interlude, “Juicy” lent itself perfectly to being blended with two iconic Rap songs. As much fun as the crowd was having during this detour, the band was clearly enjoying it just as much, if not more.
Another medley of covers followed as the band spanned almost thirty years by mixing the Hall & Oates classic “Sara Smile” from 1975 with 2002’s “Laid” by England’s James. “Sara Smile” was an exercise in blue-eyed Soul as the band laid down the track seamlessly before kicking it up another level for the barn-burning “Laid.” Mid-tempo rocker “Desperately Wanting” was next, and Better Than Ezra showed that they can lay down a concise, smart Rock song with the best of them. Starting off in an almost power-ballad style, the song would eventually take off into a higher gear and feature some masterful shredding on guitar. Set closer “In The Blood” was an excellent display of Better Than Ezra channeling their influences and taking the best of them without copying them. The song gave off the sound of the best of early ’80s Alternative and college Rock with the tempering of seasoned musicians as they were able to present a sense of urgency with the music without the self-pity and angst that their forefathers waded in. It was a purposeful song, but it also kept the crowd moving full-steam-ahead with its upbeat sound. Be sure to check out Griffin’s solo dates through the end of the year mixed in amongst some more Better Than Ezra confirmed shows.
Sugar Ray closed the show with their infectious melodies and sunny outlook on life. Modern bubble-gum Pop masters, the aptly named Sugar Ray brought the fun to an entirely new level. Frontman Mark McGrath and Guitarist Rodney Sheppard have been playing together since 1986, recent additions to the band Jesse Bivona (drums since 2012) and Justin Bivona (bass since 2012) now make up Sugar Ray. In the Summer of 1997, Sugar Ray’s “Fly” was ubiquitous. It led to the album it came from, Floored, to sell over two million copies, and the song went all the way to number one. Written off as a one hit wonder, the band’s next album, 14:59 (a reference to their fifteen minutes of fame not being up), yielded two top ten singles with “Someday” and “Every Morning.” The band would score another top twenty hit in 2001 with “When It’s Over” from their self-titled release. Since 2010, the band has been touring with other acts from their peak era.
“It’s Always Sunny” opened Sugar Ray’s performance and set the tone for the rest of the night. A bouncy, Reggae-tinged number that oozed of stress-free living got the crowd bouncing in no time. Pop-perfect “Someday” was next. An exercise in top forty excellence, the band put down a mellow, made for radio number to which the crowd knew every word and sang along. Sugar Ray acknowledged the past as they mixed in snippets of The Rascals’ “Groovin’” during the outro of “Someday.” The hits kept on coming as “Every Morning” was next. Another tasty slice of Pop music had the crowd shuffling along and screaming every word.
“When It’s Over” brought the tone down a notch as the band laid down yet another hit, proving that they were not a one-trick pony, the tune had the air of the best of ’70s singer-songwriters both musically and lyrically. Not forgetting what they do best, providing a party-like atmosphere, it was time for another cover. This time it was EMF’s “Unbelievable.” This was an ideal selection for Sugar Ray. An infectious dance groove, semi-rapped verses, a punchy “Oh!”, and tons of cowbell took the feeling in the venue from party to outright riot. Set closer “Fly,” was the song that put Sugar Ray on the map and became their biggest hit. With an undeniable opening featuring the sounds of Flamenco on guitar and drumming that sounds like it was peeled off of an obscure Hip Hop record from 1982, the intro to “Fly” got the crowd bouncing up and down, and they would not stop for nearly six minutes. Extending the studio version by over two minutes, the band mixed in several breaks featuring Blues, Soul, and even some touches of Heavy Metal. Being able to depart, successfully, from a huge hit single, and still keep the crowd not only engaged, but begging for more, is a sign of a road-tested band. Having been at it for almost thirty years, Sugar Ray is certainly that.
The Under The Sun Tour provided a night of nostalgia for some and a chance to hear some new music as the crowd ranged in age from tweens to folks in their fifties. It was evident that fun was the priority for all four acts, and they delivered. What made the show so unique was the variety of styles on display. From the Rock-n-Roll of Eve 6, to the many styles (Rock, Pop, Soul, Rap, Funk, Country) of Uncle Kracker, to the Post-Grunge Rock, Funk, and Pop of Better Than Ezra, to the Reggae/Funk inspired party sounds of Sugar Ray, Under The Sun had something for everyone. Now with the tour completed, dedicated attendees wonder what will be in store for next Summer.